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How I Live Now (2013)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/11/2014

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/12/2014

In my recent review for Memory of the Dead, I talked about how foreign films are often defined by their culture. When we think of foreign films, we typically think of movies which aren't in English. However, movies from places like England can still be shaped by the country's history. Films like 28 Days Later and Children of Men are certainly science-fiction, but one can easily read between the lines and see allusions to England's history, specifically the devastation which the country went through in World War II. This period pushed the country to the brink and now, 70 years later, they are still exorcising their demons through film. We can see a perfect example of this in How I Live Now.

As How I Live Now opens, Elizabeth (Saoirse Ronan) who prefers to go by Daisy, arrives in England from America. Her father has sent her to live with her cousins in the British countryside. She first meets young Isaac (Tom Holland), who drives her to the house, where she's introduced to Piper (Haley Bird), who is delighted to have an older girl in the house, and Eddie (George MacKay), who keeps to himself. The children are on their own, as their mother (Anna Chancellor), is busy in her government job. Europe is in turmoil and many feel that it is on the brink of war. At first, Daisy is very stand-offish from the others, and only wants to brood. But, she eventually comes around and begins to enjoy some of the local activities. However, when a tragic event occurs, the children suddenly learn that they are truly on their own in a world which has become very violent and dangerous.

Based on the novel by Meg Rosoff (who is American), How I Live Now opens with a deceptively simple premise. This looks like any other "bad attitude teen sent to live somewhere else away from her family" movie, which has been the launching point of thousands of YA novels. And for the most part, the first act maintains this storyline, save for the fact that there are no adults around, and the very subtle background mentions of tension in Europe. The kids bond and Daisy finds herself attracted to the older Eddie. The movie is so well-done and the acting is so good that the movie could have actually continued in this way and most likely would have been satisfying.

However, the movie takes a turn which propels the story in a totally different direction. Just as Daisy had become accustomed to her new life, she suddenly finds herself fighting for her life. I won't give away the plot points from the film's second half, but suffice it to say that their bucolic life in the country is shattered. Martial law in enforced, the kids are separated, and life in England suddenly begins to resemble the bleak landscape of World War II.

Director Kevin Macdonald got his start in documentaries and he certainly brings a feel of realism to the movie, without having to resort to the ridiculous camerawork shown by the likes of Paul Greengrass. The movie doesn't shy away from the horrors of war and there are some violent moments here. But, Macdonald knows how to handle the emotional side of things and he gives the movie a great deal of heart. Despite Daisy's demeanor at the beginning of the movie, we care for her and want to see her overcome her plight. The second half of How I Live Now deftly mixes action, suspense, and heartbreak.

How I Live Now takes some familiar elements and blends them together in a satisfying fashion. The story's unexpected twists make for an engrossing experience, while the characters help us to invest in the story. Daisy becomes a warrior and something much more real than Katniss. Saoirse Ronan is in nearly every frame of the movie and she carries the movie well. I didn't know what to expect from How I Live Now and I was pleasantly surprised by the film. Keep in mind that this is a harrowing experience and the movie doesn't hold much replay value, but this moving drama is definitely a winner.

How I Live Now made me cancel my European travel plans on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. Despite the dark subject matter, the film features some nice colors and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail, as we can see the textures on objects and the depth is pleasing. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track expertly reproduces the film's creative mix. The first act is mostly quiet, with the sounds of nature filling the surround speakers. Once the story changes, we get a number of subwoofer effects and stereo effects which highlight the audio.

The How I Live Now Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Making of How I Live Now" (6 minutes) has Macdonald and the cast describing the story and the characters. The bulk of this piece is made up of clips from the movie. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. This contains two interesting scenes which were cut from the latter half of the film. "Interviews" (53 minutes) contains talks with Kevin Macdonald, Producers Charles Steel & Alasdair Flind, Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird, Danny McEvoy, and Author Meg Rosoff. "Behind the Scenes Comparisons" (6 minutes) takes us on-set to see four scenes being shot, and gives us a closer look at some the background details. "AXS TV: A Look at How I Live Now" (3 minutes) is like a long trailer with some comments from those involved in the film. The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long